So yesterday I crossed the channel and drove to Brussels. This begins a series of adventures that will keep me away from the island home for two months. Thats a glimpse of them white cliffs receding as the car ferry I’m on pulls away toward France.
I arrived in Dover at 10.20 for a noon crossing and was squeezed in at the last minute between some big old trucks on a boat leaving at 10.40. Last on, last off, I drove off the boat two and a bit hours later and was in Belgium within an hour. I took a much needed nap at a rest stop, and was with my friends in Brussels around 6.
I was here a year ago, and since then, the parking controls have spread their net wider, and tightened their grip. Last visit, I could always find a free parking street within 5-10 minutes walk. Not any more…
This morning I got up and went looking…in my car. I set off about 9. First I drove around in ever increasing circles to find every street now with parking signs. After a good half hour of this, I figured I’d just pay for an hour or two and get some breakfast. I miss parking meters! Insert a coin, and off you go…mechanical.
This morning as I approached the nearest digital parking box I encountered a parking inspector, a helpful young man, who recommended getting an app on my phone which would save me money and make it all much easier. No ticket required, all information beamed up to the great parking hard disc in the sky, for the authorities to peruse at their leisure.
I duly downloaded an app to my phone, and surrendered my name, address, phone number, bank card details and such. Could I make the app work? Not this old fool. I tried inserting a 2 euro coin, which slid straight through and out again….twice. There was a choice of several apps, so I downloaded another. I had no more luck with this one. There was a further method of payment involving a text message. I gave that a try, but to no avail.
At this point I realised the spirit of nothing-is-ever-going-to-work-again was wagging its tail. I left the spot I had failed so miserably at and drove back to the street in which I was staying. If I’m going to pay, I might as well be close to home I reasoned. The closest payment box, half way down the block round the corner, gratefully accepted my 2 euros. I was free for an hour and a half!
Returning to the building I am staying in, I was unable to make the key work. Governed now by craving for coffee, I walked up the hill to a cafe and enjoyed the best cup I’d had for a very long time! Thus fortified, I went back and made the key work. After another couple of hours priming the meter and trawling the internet, I put the car in a multi-storey car park and had a lovely walk back through the back streets of Molenbeek. Here in a poorer section of town, it’s easier to catch glimpses of the old city and how it may have been. Lots of people on foot, standing around chatting outside, less cars, quieter….I can imagine they live in cramped quarters and need to get out just to be themselves a little. In the more prosperous parts of town, people scurry about, heads down, back to their private palaces.
My plan now is to go visit a friend outside Brussels, and on his advice, leave my car for a week in the railway station car park.